Co-evolving technologies: Telephones, film

May 31, 2011

Blasts from the past.

First, an AT&T advertisement — shown in theatres — in silent film.  the short introduced dial phones to part of central California in early 1927.  Historical footnote:  Some theatres had played short-subject sound films, but the famous full-length first “talkie,” “The Jazz Singer” with superstar Al Jolson in the lead role, didn’t get into production until after this phone exchange went to dials (the dial service cutover was set for May 28; Jolson didn’t sign a contract to do the film until July, and the film’s rushed premiere was October 6).

This short reflects movie conventions of the silent era.

A short time later, we get a sound version of the film instructing in the use of a dial telephone.

In 1962 AT&T promoted Touch-Tone dialing at the Seattle World’s Fair (the Fair was in 1962; the YouTube video says 1963); this is a clip from a longer film, in color; where the film was intended to be exhibited I do not know:

The longer film was a 14-minute production from AT&T, “Century 21 Calling . . .”  The longer film used the backdrop of the World’s Fair, including the monorail, to demonstrate new technologies in the pipeline, like call forwarding — technologies that were really about 20 years in the future for most people.  If you’ve got the time and want to immerse yourself in the past, here’s the whole film at CrunchGear.

We should search for earlier films on telephones.  Telephones were toys of the rich in the late 19th century.  Edison’s workable movie system started cranking out movies in 1892.  It is conceivable that there is another, earlier film on how to use a hand-crank telephone, prior to 1927.

But here we see three classic, period pieces, from 1927, from about 1930, and from 1962.  Each film ostensibly shows an advance in the user interface for the telephone, but each film also demonstrates the technology of films available at the time.  There’s a heck of an essay with a grand moral in there, somewhere.

Note on filibustering new technologies:  Virginia’s U.S. Sen. Carter Glass worked to get dial telephones banned and removed from the Senate wing of the Capitol with a resolution in 1930.  Here’s the account from the Senate Historical Office:

June 25, 1930
Senate Considers Banning Dial Phones

Senator Carter Glass of Virginia
Carter Glass (D-VA)

In the spring of 1930, the Senate considered the following resolution:

Whereas dial telephones are more difficult to operate than are manual telephones; and Whereas Senators are required, since the installation of dial phones in the Capitol, to perform the duties of telephone operators in order to enjoy the benefits of telephone service; and Whereas dial telephones have failed to expedite telephone service; Therefore be it resolved that the Sergeant at Arms of the Senate is authorized and directed to order the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. to replace with manual phones within 30 days after the adoption of this resolution, all dial telephones in the Senate wing of the United States Capitol and in the Senate office building.

Sponsored by Virginia’s Carter Glass, the resolution passed without objection when first considered on May 22, 1930. Arizona’s Henry Ashurst praised its sponsor for his restrained language. The Congressional Record would not be mailable, he said, “if it contained in print what Senators think of the dial telephone system.” When Washington Senator Clarence Dill asked why the resolution did not also ban the dial system from the District of Columbia, Glass said he hoped the phone company would take the hint.

One day before the scheduled removal of all dial phones, Maryland Senator Millard Tydings offered a resolution to give senators a choice. It appeared that some of the younger senators actually preferred the dial phones. This angered the anti-dial senators, who immediately blocked the measure’s consideration.

Finally, technology offered a solution. Although the telephone company had pressed for the installation of an all-dial system, it acknowledged that it could provide the Senate with phones that worked both ways. But Senator Dill was not ready to give up. In his experience, the dial phone “could not be more awkward than it is. One has to use both hands to dial; he must be in a position where there is good light, day or night, in order to see the number; and if he happens to turn the dial not quite far enough, then he gets a wrong connection.”

Senator Glass, the original sponsor, had the last word before the Senate agreed to the compromise plan. “Mr. President, so long as I am not pestered with the dial and may have the manual telephone, while those who want to be pestered with [the dial] may have it, all right.”

A very big tip of the old scrub brush to Mary Almanza, who piqued my interest with her post of the “how to dial” video on Facebook.


Old-Picture.com, good resource for teachers and students

May 31, 2011

Here’s a source of high-quality photos, most at least 90 years old.  A lot of these photos would fit nicely into presentations for history classes:  Old-Picture.com.

Many of the photos don’t appear much of any place else.  There are historic maps, too.

For example:  What’s a “whistlestop tour?”

Here is President William H. Taft making such a tour, or rather, speaking during a stop on such a tour, at Redfield (what state?  South Dakota?  Iowa?  New York?):

W. H. Taft on whistlestop tour, in Redfield

W. H. Taft on whistlestop tour, in Redfield

Here’s Taft, again, at “Boutelle at Janesville;” note especially the boys climbing the pole to get a better look:

1908 Taft whistlestop tour, Boutelle at Janesville (wherever that is!)

1908 Taft whistlestop tour, Boutelle at Janesville (wherever that is!)

Janesville is probably the city in Wisconsin.

Here’s Taft at a train, again in 1908 — might we assume it’s the same trip?

W. H. Taft at a train, in 1908 - campaigning?

W. H. Taft at a train, in 1908 -- campaigning?

Here Taft and his party are pictured on a train, in Chicago.  Same train?  Same trip?  Who are the other men with him?

W. H. Taft and party on a train, 1908 presidential campaign

W. H. Taft and party on a train in Chicago, 1908 presidential campaign

For another view, here’s what Taft saw at one of his stops — the crowd assembled to listen to him speak, in 1908:

Crowd gathered to hear Taft's campaign speech, 1908 (location, "West?")

Crowd gathered to hear Taft's campaign speech, 1908 (location, "West?") -- love that Tom Mix-looking hat on the guy in the middle, no?

Put these pictures together in a different order — it’s a clear illustration of just what a “whistlestop” tour is.  These slides could complement a presentation comparing this trip with Harry Truman’s 1948 whistlestop tour, just two generations later.  Or, juxtapose these pictures with pictures of John F. Kennedy in 1960, or Richard Nixon in 1968, or Bill Clinton’s bus tours in 1992 and 1996.

I’ll wager you’ve not seen at least one of these photos before (they are all new to me).  Old-Picture.com has a great collection of stuff.  So far as I can tell, the site administrator lists no copyright restrictions (there’s got to be a story in there somewhere).

What can you do with this collection?


Johnstown Flood, May 31, 1889

May 31, 2011

Robber Barons and other very wealthy people owned a dam above Johnstown, Pennsylvania, at a hunting club.  The dam was known to be deteriorating, but the very wealthy did not want to foot the bill to fix the dam.

Bridge and Cambria Iron Works, showing 30 acres of debris in the river - Johnstown Flood

30 acres of debris in the river, bridge and Cambria Iron Works in the background - Johnstown Flood, May 31, 1889 - Library of Congress photo at Johnstown Flood Museum

In a rainstorm, on May 31, 1889, the dam broke.  More than 2,200 people died in the flood and fires that followed.

It is impossible to describe briefly the suddenness with which the disaster came. A warning sound was heard at Conemaugh a few minutes before the rush of water came, but it was attributed to some meteorological disturbance, and no trouble was borrowed because of the thing unseen. As the low, rumbling noise increased in volume, however, and came nearer, a suspicion of danger began to force itself even upon the bravest, which was increased to a certainty a few minutes later, when, with a rush, the mighty stream spread out in width, and when there was not time to do anything to save themselves. Many of the unfortunates where whirled into the middle of the stream before they could turn around; men, women and children were struggling in the streets, and it is thought that many of them never reached Johnstown, only a mile or two below.

At Johnstown a similar scene was enacted, only on a much larger scale. The population is greater and the sweeping whirlpool rushed into a denser mass of humanity. The imagination of the reader can better depict the spectacle than the pen of the writer can give it. It was a twilight of terror, and the gathering shades of evening closed in on a panorama of horrors that has few parallels in the history of casualties.

When the great wave from Conemaugh lake behind the dam, came down the Conemaugh Valley, the first obstacle it struck was the great viaduct over the South Fork. This viaduct was a State work, built to carry the old Portage road across the Fork. The Pennsylvania Railroad parallels the Portage road for a long distance, and runs over the Fork. Besides sweeping the viaduct down, the bore, or smaller bores on its wings, washed out the Portage road for miles. One of the small bores went down the bed of a brook which comes into the Conemaugh at the village of South Fork, which is some distance above the viaduct. The big bore backed the river above the village. The small bore was thus checked in its course and flowed into the village.

The obstruction below being removed, the backed-up water swept the village of South Fork away. The flood came down. It moved steadily but with a velocity never yet attained by an engine moved by power controllable by man….

“Johnstown is annihilated, ” telegraphed Superintendent Pitcarin to Pittsburg on Friday night. “He came,” says one who visited the place on Sunday, “very close to the facts of the case. Nothing like it was ever seen in this country. Where long rows of dwelling-houses and business blocks stood forty-eight hours ago, ruin and desolation now reign supreme. Probably 1500 houses have been swept from the face of the earth as completely as if they had never been erected. Main street, from end to end, is piled fifteen and twenty feet high with debris, and in some instances it is as high as the roofs of the houses. This great mass of wreckage fills the street from curb to curb, and frequently has crushed the buildings in and filled the space with reminders of the terrible calamity. There is not a man in the place who can give any reliable estimate of the number of houses that have been swept away. City Solicitor Kuehn, who should be very good authority in this matter, places the number at 1500.  From the woolen mill above the island to the bridge, a distance of probably two miles, a strip of territory nearly a half mile in width has been swept clean, not a stick of timber or one brick on top of another being left to tell the story. It is the most complete wreck that imagination could portray.

“All day long men, women, and children were plodding about the desolate waste looking in vain to locate the boundaries of their former homes. Nothing but a wide expanse of mud, ornamented here and there with heaps of driftwood, remained, however, for their contemplation. It is perfectly [accurate] to say that every house in the city that was not located well up on the hillside was either swept completely away or wrecked so badly that rebuilding will be absolutely necessary. These losses, however, are nothing compared to the frightful sacrifice in precious human lives to be seen on every hand.

“During all this solemn Sunday Johnstown has been drenched with the tears of stricken mortals, and the air is filled with sobs and sighs that come from breaking hearts. There are scenes enacted here every hour and every minute that affect all beholders profoundly. When homes are thus town asunder in an instant, and the loved ones hurled from the arms of loving and devoted mothers, there is an element of sadness in the tragedy that overwhelms every heart….

“It is impossible to describe the appearance of Main street. Whole houses have been swept down this one street and become lodged. The wreck is piled as high as the second-story windows. The reporter could step from the wreck into the auditorium of the opera house. The ruins consist of parts of houses, trees, saw logs and reels from the wire factory. Many houses have their side walls and roofs torn up, and one can walk directly into what had been second-story bed-rooms, or go in by way of the top. Further up town a raft of logs lodged in the street, and did great damage. At the beginning of the wreckage, which is at the opening of the valley of the Conemaugh, one can look up the valley for miles and not see house. Nothing stands but an old woolen mill….”

Seen from the high hill across the river from Johnstown, the Conemaugh Valley gives an easy explanation of the terrible destruction which it has suffered. This valley, stretching back almost in a straight line for miles, suddenly narrows near Johnstown. The wall of water which came tearing down toward the town, picking up all the houses and mils in the villages along its way, suddenly rose in height as it came to the narrow pass. It swept over the nearest part of the town and met the waters of Stony creek, swollen by rains, rushing along with the speed of a torrent. The two forces coming together, each turned aside and started away again in a half-circle, seeking an outlet in the lower Conemaugh Valley. The massive stone bridge of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, at the lower base of the triangle was almost instantly choked up with the great mass of wreckage dashed against it, and became a dam that could not be swept away, and proved to be the ruin of the town and the villages above. The waters checked here, formed a vast whirlpool, which destroyed everything within its circle. It backed up on the other side of the triangle, and devastated the village of Kernville, across the river from Johnstown.

The force of the current was truly appalling. The best evidence of its force is exhibited in the mass of debris south of the Pennsylvania bridge. Persons on the hillsides declare that houses, solid from their foundation stones, were rushed on to destruction at the rate of thirty miles an hour. On one house forty persons were counted; their cries for help were heard far above the roaring waters. At the railroad bridge the house parted in the middle, and the cries of the unfortunate people were smothered in the engulfing waters. 

Extract from: Willis Fletcher Johnson, History of the Johnstown Flood…. Edgewood Publishing Company, 1889.

What is the moral to this tale?

Resources:


Memorial Day 2011 – Please fly your flag to honor our fallen heroes

May 30, 2011

Flags at DFW National Cemetery - IMGP4169 photo by Ed Darrell

U.S. flags wave at DFW National Cemetery, May 30, 2010. Photo by Ed Darrell

Our local Rotary Club provides a U.S. flag planted in your yard for flag-flying events from Memorial Day through Labor Day, for an annual subscription of about $15.00. Local groups, including especially Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts, take a route and plant the flags.

As a consequence, our town is loaded with flags on a weekend like this one.

But even if you don’t subscribe to a flag service, please remember to fly your flag today.

Memorial Day honors people who died in defense of the nation. Armed Forces Day honors those who serve currently, celebrated the third Saturday in May. Veterans Day honors the veterans who returned.

On Memorial Day itself, flags on poles or masts should be flown at half-staff from sunrise to noon. At noon, flags should be raised to full-staff position.

When posting a flag at half-staff, the flag should be raised to the full-staff position first, with vigor, then slowly lowered to half-staff; when retiring a flag posted at half-staff, it should be raised to the full staff position first, with vigor, and then be slowly lowered. Some people attach black streamers to stationary flags, though this is not officially recognized by the U.S. Flag Code.

On Memorial Day, 3:00 p.m. local time is designated as the National Moment of Remembrance.

Memorial Day traditionally came on May 30, but now comes on the last Monday in May.  In 2011 the last Monday happens to be May 30, a nice blend of tradition and formal law.

US flag on home in NC Outer Banks

Flag flies at a home in North Carolina's Outer Banks

 


LA Times on the Texas drought

May 29, 2011

Contrary to the Warming Contrarians (WCs), Texas is still in a drought — a bad one.

LA Times on the Texas drought, posted with vodpod

Oddly, the great story on the Texas drought that showed up in the Dallas Morning News last week, does not show up on their website.  Because this is a climate change-related issue, I think we should track it.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Michael Tobis at Only In It For The Gold.


Terrible plunge of BBC News

May 28, 2011

BBC Radio News logo

BBC Radio News logo

3:30 p.m. Central Daylight Time.  In Barcelona, Spain, London’s Wembley Stadium, Manchester United and Barcelona(Spain) tangle for the Champions’ League trophy.

BBC News?  This is the order of the stories:

  • In Afghanistan, the national police chief was murdered by a suicide bomber
  • In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak was fined $90 million for interfering with business by cutting phones and internet
  • Yemen’s got trouble
  • Palestinian independence got support from the Arab League, meeting in Doha, Qatr
  • U.S. President Obama ended his tour of Europe in Poland, with a pledge of friendship
  • In Moscow, Russian, gay rights demonstrators were attacked by a mob led by people who said they are members of the Russian Orthodox Church
  • Barcelona leads Manchester, 3 to 1, with minutes to play

I’m not usually one to complain, but doesn’t it appear BBC News has its priorities wrong in this order of stories?


Dallas ISD projects less dismal budget picture

May 26, 2011

Generally, Texas school districts need to lock down their school year budgets by about the end of April.

Of course, that’s not possible this year.  As of this morning, it looked as though the Texas Lege could not agree on school funding, and they will have to return for a special session to set education budgets in June or July.

Can you imagine being the budget officer for a Texas school district?

But, sorta good news in Dallas:  Budget officers, making their best guesses on what will  happen, created Budget 5.0 (the fifth iteration of this process — one is usually all a district gets, or needs).

Here’s the message from Downtown on the school’s internal communication system:

Budget Plan 5.0 presented to trustees

Budget Plan 5.0 was presented to trustees today during a budget workshop. The administration is optimistic that this particular scenario, which envisions a $90 million cut in state funding to the district, will be closest to the final budget presented to the board for approval in June.

Here are some of the highlights of Budget Plan 5.0:

  • No additional layoffs at the campus level will be necessary.
  • There will not be an additional loss in the number of teaching positions. The early resignation incentive offered earlier in the spring cut enough from the payroll to make any additional loss of positions unnecessary. It must be noted, however, that some reassignments will need to occur to level campuses depending upon staffing needs.
  • Full day pre-kindergarten for eligible Title I students, which has been a priority of the Board of Trustees, will be funded.
  • Certain teacher stipends will be eliminated.
  • Secondary schools will be staffed at a 27-1 class-size ratio, an increase over the current level of 25-1. While this is not ideal, it is preferable to earlier budget versions that included a 35-1 ratio.

Texas lawmakers remain gridlocked on the funding mechanism for schools yet have indicated an agreement in principle on the amount that will be available. The latest funding scenarios from the state give the district confidence to move forward with Budget Plan 5.0, with the possibility of some modifications, prior to its approval by the Board of Trustees in June.


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